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MTA taggers agree to 'graffiti injunction'

Graffiti marks the concrete walls of the Los Angeles river near downtown L.A.
jondoeforty1/Flickr/Creative Commons
Graffiti marks the concrete walls of the Los Angeles river near downtown L.A.

You’ve heard of gang injunctions, now try “graffiti injunctions.”

Eight members of the Metro Transit Assassins, a graffiti crew that in 2008 allegedly tagged the concrete Los Angeles River bed with giant M-T-A letters, settled with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office Wednesday to avoid at least $3.7 million in clean up fees.

The settlement is a first and could be a new nuisance tool for city.

The taggers have agreed to what the city attorney is calling a “graffiti injunction.” Under the settlement, the eight members are prohibited from associating with other MTA members in public. They cannot be convicted of graffiti anywhere in California for the next five years or even get caught having graffiti supplies on them. They also have to complete 100 hours of graffiti removal community service and can’t be out past a 10 p.m. curfew.

But the city attorney is taking another step and asking the court to approve a civil injunction against the entire MTA graffiti crew and future members.

“This marked a significant expansion of the use of civil injunctions because it was not against a street gang and because second of all because it sought to prohibit first amendment expressive activity,” said Peter Bibring, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.

Bibring represented one of the alleged MTA taggers in the lawsuit, artist Cristian Gheorghiu. His client was not subject to the settlement because his last graffiti conviction had been more than five years ago.

Bibring says restrictions on basic freedoms such as choosing who to associate with and being out past 10 p.m. have been upheld in gang injunctions because of violent gang crimes and because gang territory is usually a small neighborhood. But this “graffiti injunction” applies to the entire state of California and graffiti is considered a nuisance crime.

The city attorney maintains that graffiti covers 31 million square feet in Los Angeles and costs the city $10 million annually to clean up.

The city attorney’s office released a press release stating the city has prevailed on all constitutional issues raised by the ACLU in court hearings.

“We must use all available legal tools to stop this vandalism, which taggers refer to as “wrecking,” and which blights our neighborhoods and diverts scarce resources from other community uses, such as parks, libraries and fire protection,” said city attorney Carmen Trutanich in the statement.